Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Day in Rothbardian Anarcho-Capitalist Paradise

Robert Murphy tries to defend libertarianism from the charge that, without the state, there would be problems with provision of public goods like roads.

First, it is important to note that the “libertarianism” we are talking about here is an extreme form called Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism which believes in the total abolition of the state and the privatisation of everything.

Unfortunately, the problems with such a system go far beyond the issue of who would build the roads.

What would such a society look like? What would you discover if you woke up and found yourself in such a society?

To answer this question, we can turn to the writings of Rothbard to see how he imagines his anarcho-capitalist world (Rothbard 2009; 2011), and we can also use inductive arguments by analogy to suggest probable outcomes in such a society, on the basis of instances in modern history where modern nations (usually during the 19th century) have left things to private enterprise.

First, would an anarcho-capitalist society have a good system of transportation, sanitation, drainage, water, and electricity infrastructure, if built from nothing?

The Rothbardians claim that the private sector would build all such infrastructure, but historical instances where these things are left to the private sector suggest that such a system has definite disadvantages: not enough provision of such goods/services, and often privatised services which are too expensive for many people to afford (e.g., health care).

A case in point: if you found yourself in a Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism system, I submit that you would quickly find serious problems with justice.

The anarcho-capitalism system abolishes the state and all state-based criminal law. There would no longer be any criminal laws at all (Rothbard 2011: 407).

All crimes – even the worst possible – would simply become offences only punishable under a system of private tort law. In “common law” nations, a tort is a wrongful or harmful act against a person other than breach of contract (in “civil law” nations torts are generally called “delicts”). Under tort law, the victim can obtain redress or justice only if they privately bring a law suit or legal action against the perpetrator or aggressor (Rothbard 2011: 407). But what if you do not know the perpetrator or aggressor? You would need to hire private investigators even before you can bring a law suit.

But, unfortunately, both private investigators and law suits require money, and probably a considerable amount of money: if a victim cannot afford legal services and the fees to bring a private law suit under tort law, then no trials or punishments of many criminals will ever happen in Rothbardian anarcho-capitalist paradise.

More importantly, the principle of no public investigation or punishment of crimes through criminal law when a criminal, even if caught, can simply buy off his victim strongly suggests that the rich and super-rich in Rothbard’s world will simply have a licence to commit crimes and bribe victims to stop prosecution. This is a world where justice has become a travesty and a joke.

Let us move on to social security. You would also find that, if there is no basic social security in society, people who cannot find work or successfully beg for private charity in such a society will be plunged into poverty or simply starve. There would presumably be insurance against unemployment and other social distress, but we are now back to the same problem as noted above: what if you cannot afford it?

Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism would also be horrible for many of the mentally ill or disabled. What would happen to people who are mentally ill or disabled who simply cannot pay for basic services they need to live? What if these people cannot find enough charity?

Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism has no restrictions on child labour. What is particularly stupid here is that some libertarians, agreeing that child labour is a bad thing, are anxious to argue that you do not need child labour laws to end employment and exploitation of children.

However, if you bother to read Rothbard, he was actually in favour of child labour (Rothbard 2009: 1111–1112). A Rothbardian anarcho-capitalist system, then, has no barrier to exploitation of children.

With no public health policies such as immunisation programs and disease control, you would probably find that a Rothbardian anarcho-capitalist system would see the return of serious epidemics, diseases, and other serious public health issues long since banished from the Western world.

With no regulation of who brings in plants and animals into the society, will visitors or tourists bring in plant and animal diseases causing serious problems to agriculture and the environment?

Finally, with no government regulations whatsoever on the production and sale of not only guns, but also advanced military weapons, chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, it follows that any lunatic or religious fanatic with enough money can literally go and freely buy weapons of mass destruction, without anyone stopping them, in a Rothbardian anarcho-capitalist world.

Libertarians have a major problem: there are very few people indeed who would want such a society or think that it would be a good place to live in.

In reality, on the last issue alone (lack of any regulation on production and sale of the most destructive weapons imaginable), most people would conclude that such a society sounds completely, utterly, stark, raving mad – Rothbard’s bizarre fantasies and intellectually bankrupt natural rights ethics notwithstanding.

And they would be right too.

Further Reading
Debunking Austrian Economics 101 (Updated).

Rothbard, M. N. 2009. Man, Economy, and State with Power and Market: The Scholar’s Edition (2nd edn.). Ludwig von Mises Institute, Auburn, Ala.

Rothbard, M. N. 2011. Economic Controversies. Ludwig von Mises Institute, Auburn, Ala.


  1. "The anarcho-capitalism system abolishes the state and all state-based criminal law. There would no longer be any criminal laws at all"

    This is simply a lie anyway. Ancapistan would have to be based on a system of law which determines who legitimately owns what in the first place.

    1. That is why the resort to "natural" law.

    2. the right-wing 'libertarian' concept of 'natural law' (which by the way even 'libertarians' disagree on) simply serves as a means to justify actual law, which is decided by humans, created by humans and enforced by humans.

      Right-wing 'libertarians' want to impose their system of law on everyone else. They just lie about it.

    3. "Who legitimately owns what in the first place." Yes,an interesting point Phillippe,it must be the the first living organisms, which took possession of the things on earth at the first place according to some "natural right law.It must be,some unicellular organism.I get it,the Anarco Lunatarians feels some kind of kinship with them, on an emotional and intellectual level.They feel they are the only true ancestors and only rightful heirs of those nice little creeps and therefore of course have the right to inherit everything these nice little creeps once owned,it explains a lot!

  2. This sort of libertarianism founders on the fact that in organic societies, at least a third of the adult population needs some level of zoo-keeping to stay out of trouble, because of low IQ's, disability, criminal behavior, mental illnesses and so forth.

    Libertarians who advocate the creation of artificial (non-Hayekian!) societies on seasteads implicitly ackowledge that. Note the absence of plans for prisons, homeless shelters, public hospitals and other facilities that organic societies on land have to set up and maintain to handle the zoo-keeping burden.

  3. "Natural" Law is something of a bad misnomer" What we are really talking about here is "norms" "Normative" Naturalist law would be a better term.

    Fact vs Value? Depending on the goal in mind, those can be bridged. by building a consensus understanding of several "universal" goals that people share. For example, life, liberty, happiness, justice, etc.
    the naturalistic fallacy can be overcome by adding facts to counterfactuals, and seeing what is true in all possible worlds.

    Applying 'normative rights" as consequentialist goals is where utilitarianism comes in. Incidentally, Bentham himself, for all his mockery of N.R. said "NATURE has placed us under two sovereign masters, pleasure and pain." And happiness is important, but not the only measuring rod thats worthwhile. So basically to sum up my point," natural" rights if they can be modified and understood can be subsumed into rules consequentialism.

    Since I am a minarchist and not an anarchist I can't defend Rothbard on your arguments about criminal law and biological weapons and the other valid shortcoming of such a society. Agreed with some minor quibbles. Roads and infrastructure: There have been cases in history where private financing and building of railroads, such as James Jerome Hill's line, have taken place.

    What is surprising about the Nordic countries is despite their strong social safety nets and high tax rates, they've privatized certain things that would be run by the state in America and Britain, like airports and fire departments, and they seem to work fine.

    1. The James Jerome Hill example doesn't stand up to serious examination:

    2. airports in the UK are run by private companies, but owned by local governments I think.

      In Denmark the government pays a private company to provide some local fire and ambulance services.

      Having the government employ private companies is quite different to anarcho-capitalism of course.

    3. Right. Even in cases, say, where tolls or private toll roads exist, the state laws and regulations on diving safety still apply. I think in other cases, as you say, the government merely pays someone to run it or leases the right to run the road.

    4. If you are suffering from minachist or anachist disease is not interesting for the rest of us but you do not understand the Nordic and especially the Swedish model. Ownership has never been decisive in the Nordic model, but rather the control and distribution of property and natural resources. These countries have practiced so called "functional socialism", a term (I quote from wiki because I have no time to write special for you), "which was coined by Gunnar Adler-Karlsson 1965 during a lecture on Latin American students on the theme" The Swedish economy as a middle ground. "concept came then be further explored in the book functional socialism: an alternative to communism and capitalism (1967).In this book described Adler-Karlsson how functional socialism was supposed to work in practice:

      "Instead, let us take our current capitalist one after another of their proprietary functions, so that the few decades remains formally as kings, but in real terms that more or less powerless symbols of a bygone era. "
      - Gunnar Adler-Karlsson: Function Socialism (1967)
      The book theorizes about socialism, and property rights, which the author sees as a series of functions between different people, bureaucracy and organizations. "Functional Socialism" became a term for the policy that the Swedish Social Democrats already practiced for a long time, which is a main theme of the Adler-Karlsson.

      Adler-Karlsson himself derives his term to Östen Unden and his "Some comments on the concept formation in law" (1928), and Swedish rem (1927-41). Undén argued that ownership as a concept can be understood as a functional concept and distinguished from the concept of substance. Adler-Karlsson modify this view, inter alia, in light of the classical natural law, arguing that socialization debate ambiguity due to the ownership regarded as indivisible. Instead, Adler-Karlsson see ownership as a number of related functions.

      The book features nine counts of ownership up as Adler-Karlsson believes to be most important:

      Decisions regarding production with existing fixed capital resources
      investment decisions
      Decisions regarding the utilization of labor
      Wage Decisions
      Decisions regarding the distribution of profits
      Redistribution Decisions
      Decisions about economic equalization
      Control of the concentration of power
      Balancing economic and other values
      Socializing ownership functions Adler-Karlsson looks like a middle ground between the Eastern bloc and Western bloc former political system, then it is a mixed economy. Among economy can depend on the number and degree of socialized functions may be more or less drawn at capitalism or communism.

      Adler-Karlsson's analysis of the function of socialism can be seen as a contribution to the 1960's so-called convergence theories (Jan Tinbergen, John Kenneth Galbraith), who examined the parallel emergence of a market economy elements of the communist planned economies and elements of economic planning in the Western market economies."

  4. Besides, we have historical models for "minarchist night watchmen" societies as opposed to "anarchist" ones.

    1. Could you give us some examples?

  5. Anarchocapitalists think they are arguing for freedom, but what they're really arguing for is rentier feudalism--they are slaves to a distorted, mysticist view of markets wholly detached from reality.

    In fact, I would argue that anarchocapitalism, particularly when advocated for using praxeology, is a form of solipsism.

    1. Yep. We already tried this see
      and the entire of history of the Grafenkönige which ironically lead to the Habsburg rule who created and funded the Austrian School of economics to attack the German School.

      Libertarianism simply cover for the far-right reactionaries who supported fascism but because of WWII had to change their tune here and Americanize their fascist program.

      All you have to is see this is to look at far right characters like Willis Carto operating behind the scenes of the "New Right," "John Birchers" and all those "freedom loving" Anti- Communists to see that American Libertarianism is Neo-Reaction and ultimately fascist.

      The political goal of libertarianism is to re-instate chattle slavery within a industrial society which is the economic program of the fascist state.

      If you doubt me see this video.

      It is very clear that Libertarianism means no human rights are respected but rather the complete Alienability and commodification of human beings into a purely "utilitarian" totalitarian market system.

      Libertarianism stands for nothing but the liberty to be sold on the open market like a bag of potatoes.

  6. I believe that for many Rothbardians the sale of justice to the highest bidder is a feature not a bug of their system. When I challenged major freedom on this on Murphy's blog, he opined that the rich got that way by providing greater value to other people, and so are deserving of privileged access to "justice". He certainly agreed to my characterization, that under anarcho capitalist justice all dollars are equal not all people.

    1. lol... so according to Major_Idiot if some rich guy burns down your house, killing your family members, if he can bribe you not to sue, then he has provided "greater value to other people"?

    2. "I believe that for many Rothbardians the sale of justice to the highest bidder is a feature not a bug of their system."

      The main thing that motivated Rothbard to write his deranged and dishonest drivel was his pathological hatred of poor black people, so that should come as no surprise.

    3. "Rothbard to write his deranged and dishonest drivel was his pathological hatred of poor black people, so that should come as no surprise."

      Philippe, normally I agree with you, but this seems a bit extreme.

      But what is the evidence that Rothbard hated African Americans?

    4. Rothbard wrote a number of racist articles, published racist propaganda, collaborated with racist groups, campaigned against civil rights legislation, referred to blacks as naturally inferior, parasites, looters; he mocked and insulted leaders of the civil rights movement (he hated Martin Luther King especially), and professed support for the Confederacy...

    5. "referred to blacks as naturally inferior,"

      OK. That would seem to be good evidence he was racist. But where did he say this, out of interest?

    6. “The Tutsi are an Ethiopid, Nilotic people. The Hutu, on the other hand, are short, squat Bantu, a closer approximation to what used to be called "Negro" in America. "Negroes" are now called "black," but the problem here is that the skin color of both the Tutsi and the Hutu are much the same. The real issue, as in most other cases, is not skin color but various character traits of different population groups.
The crucial point is that, in both Rwanda and Burundi, Hutus and Tutsis have coexisted for centuries; the Tutsi are about 15 percent of the total population, the Hutu about 85 percent. And yet consistently, over the centuries, the Tutsi have totally dominated, and even enserfed, the Hutu. How are we to explain this consistent pattern of domination by a small minority? Could it be – dare I say it – that along with being taller, slimmer, more graceful and noble-looking, the Tutsi are far more i-n-t-e-l-l-i-g-e-n-t than the Hutu? And yet what else explains this overriding fact?

    7. "Essentially, I mean the almost self-evident fact that individuals, ethnic groups, and races differ among themselves in intelligence and in many other traits, and that intelligence, as well as less controversial traits of temperament, are in large part hereditary."

      I was not aware of this -- and, yes, you are right.

      It does seem to show that Rothbard believed in racial differences in the hard 19th century sense as intellectual and maybe moral differences between races largely hereditary and (presumably) impossible to change: that is a type of hard racism.

    8. On the Tutsi - Hutu quote: yeah, it is not looking good for Rothbard at all!

      I have to say even I am disgusted and amazed - even though I've read a lot of Rothbard's work. One sick bast*rd.

    9. the second quote I posted above is from Rothbard's glowing review of Charle's Murray's 'The Bell Curve'

    10. Sorry guys. This establishes Rothbard believed in intelligence differences between races. That is not proof of animus. Philippe alleged hatred.
      I believe dogs are smarter than cats. I prefer cats.
      Besides, what if the evidence vindicates Rothbard,s belief? What if someone proves this? Would that mean anyone who accepts evidence that ex hypothesi is conclusive is racist? No, it proves your criteria are wrong.
      I think Rothbard had the condescending racism not uncommon in his generation, but you are nowhere near proving hatred.

  7. Out of interest, would a left libertarian society have criminal laws?

    If so, would it have police forces to enforce these laws?

  8. Matt Bruenig and Gene Callahan have both written a series of very interesting posts/articles critiquing right-libertarianism/anarcho-capitalism (from different perspectives - Matt is an egalitarian lefty and Gene is an ex-ancap conservative). They are really worth reading.

    Here are links to Matt's posts, I'll link to Gene's later:

    (in no particular order)

    1. I did some searching about Gene Callahan and I couldn't find any blog posts written about him. The only post I saw that confirmed that he was an ex ancap was on some article written by an actual Ancap who was talking about him critqueing Rothbardian philosphy.

  9. Phillipe, I would say that 1920's America is a good example, with the exception of the despicable racism that existed back then. Socially it was not a good time
    I am surprised by what Rothbard wrote, I didn't know that about him, It makes him even more despicable in my eyes.

    I would say that an ideal society is something like 1920's America without the racism, and a slightly larger government one that fights depressions. regulates pollution, and embraces women in the workforce. kind of like the 1980's America, except with lower marginal tax rates for the poor and middle class. Oh, also with universal health care. But abolish all useless regulations. Get rid of occupational licensure, Close down pointless departments. Don;t subsidize housing

    LK, on Hill, don't be absurd. Hill's benefit from government action was second or third order, not in the form of direct subsidies. We all "benefitted" for example, from Britain and America winning World War II along with Russia.

    Everyone, its okay to pick and choose. So when I say I like certain parts of the late nineteeth century period and 1920's period, it doesn't mean I like ALL of it. So please, lets not use "Oh so you're a fan of racial discrimination and child labor argument" I would bear in mind that the Golden Age of post World War II capitalism also had (at least in America, I'm ignorant when it comes to Britain) discrimination and women barred from the workforce. I'm sure social democrats and progressives don't approve.

  10. It's pretty obvious that all that would happen in an anarcho capitalist society (if such a word is not a contradiction in terms) is that the strong would re-assert themselves and then you'd have some kind of proto-state which would then evolve....and you're back where you started.

    I don't even think the anarcho capitalists believe in their own vision. It's just a rhetorical lever designed to be used against liberal society, in order to force it whereever possible in a more propertarian direction. These so called libertarians would have been quite happy as wealthy men under Pinochet.

  11. Another problem with Anarcho Capitalism is how courts would work. In an Ancap system, all courts would have to be Arbitration Agencies which are essentially private courts whose judges or juries have been selected by both parties with their consent have agreed to whatever decision the arbtritator will make. However, what's stopping a single party from just refusing to go to court? In a state, the accusing or defending party would then take it a state court where the matter would be decided without the consent of the party who doesn't want to partake in the judicial process. However, in an Ancap system, there would be no public courts so a party could just refuse to go to court. There would also be no higher level or a supreme court so appeals would essentially be impossible if both parties agreed during a trial to adher to the decision makers outcome. This means that if one party feels like their case isn't being decided fairly, they would be unable to appeal in a higher level court. Even if both parties agreed that they could appeal the case in a seperate AA, there would be no state sanctioned "higher court" that could legally override the decision of the lower court.

  12. Another problem I could see happening is with laws. With no state, who would write laws? Some laws like no theft, raping, murder etc. would obviously be enforced by all private courts but more nuanced ones like what types of buissness conduct constitute fraud would likely be kept confidential and unknown to the general public. Even if the results of court cases were published, there's no reason why other private courts would need to follow them as a form of judicial precedent.